His name is Babar Azam, not Virat Kohli

Published: November 11, 2017
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(L): Babar Azam soaks in the applause after raising his maiden international century, Pakistan v West Indies, 1st ODI, Sharjah, September 30, 2016. PHOTO: GETTY (R): Virat Kohli completed his 32nd ODI hundred in Kanpur, India v New Zealand, 3rd ODI, Kanpur, October 29, 2017. PHOTO: BCCI

In the land known to produce premium fast bowlers, a young schoolboy-like personality is making strides in the batting arena like we have never seen before. A staggering ODI average of 58.60 comes off so unique to us that it almost feels like this individual has been misplaced, and needs to return to the other side of the border. However, as astonishing as it may sound, this particular batsman is Pakistani indeed. His name is Babar Azam, not Virat Kohli.

Babar Azam is pulled into an embrace by his captain after raising his sixth ODI century, Pakistan v Sri Lanka, 1st ODI, Dubai, October 13, 2017. Photo: AFP

Everything about Azam is abnormal to us. He is calm, he is consistent and he is physically fit to take as many singles as he may wish. That’s not all, in fact, despite being Umar Akmal’s first cousin, he somehow manages to not show a single trait of ‘Akmalism’ in him. For that alone, we salute him.

Azam had impressed me from the moment I first saw him play. He did something special as soon as he stepped on to the crease to bat for the very first time in the innings. He picked up a single immediately. This wasn’t just any single; it was a controlled, sweetly timed tap in the gap for a single. He didn’t do it once or twice but a couple of hundred times over the course of his career. For those who follow cricket closely, they knew immediately that a gem has been discovered. The quality of the batsman lies in the ability to pick gaps as consistently as possible, not in glory shots.

Babar Azam is all grace as he times one through cover, Pakistan v Sri Lanka, 1st ODI, Dubai, October 13, 2017. Photo: Getty

Azam’s popularity skyrocketed after his three consecutive ODI centuries against the West Indies in UAE in 2016. It may be argued that the team West Indies sent in 2016 was rather weak in every aspect of the game, but scoring three consecutive ODI centuries against any opposition takes some phenomenal talent.

Babar Azam performs the sajdah after scoring his third successive ton, Pakistan v West Indies, 3rd ODI, Abu Dhabi. Photo: Getty

The rise in popularity meant the inevitable comparison. Pakistanis like to compare talented newcomers to legendary cricketers. Hence, everyone here jumped on the bandwagon and started comparing Azam to Kohli.

Throughout my reflection on Azam, I hope it can be seen that I never compared him to Kohli; simply because he is not Virat Kohli, he is Babar Azam, a young promising talent of Pakistan who has a long way to go in his career to prove himself. Kohli, on the other hand, is a high-class pedigree of his own. Even though Azam has all the potential to reach the heights Kohli has reached, but let’s not jump ahead of ourselves here.

This isn’t the first time we are guilty of diverting a young talent’s focus by absurd comparisons. We did this to Sohaib Maqsood by calling him the next Inzamamul Haq. Today, he is not even in the squad. We did the same to Umar Akmal by comparing him to Kohli. Today, we only see him holding press conferences. The list goes on but rarely did we see a promising talent live up to the comparison fans had drawn way too early.

The road ahead for Azam is not all roses and sunshine. He has been heavily criticised for his failure in Test cricket and rightly so. To make his presence known to the world, Azam must step up his game in the purest form of cricket, which is Test cricket. Another facet of the game that he needs to improve at is the ability to hit the big shots. While I admire his skills to pick singles frequently, the modern game demands a slightly higher strike rate.

Sri Lanka players celebrate the wicket of Babar Azam, Pakistan v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Abu Dhabi, 3rd day, September 30, 2017. Photo: Getty

Before we ruin Azam’s career through comparisons, let us all give him some freedom to be himself first. He can only succeed in the cricket world if he stays true to himself and not try to become an imitation of someone else, just ask Ahmed Shehzad.

Hamza Junaid

Hamza Junaid

The author is an avid cricket follower and plays for a team called Gladiators based in New York. He tweets as @hamza_junaid1 (twitter.com/hamza_junaid1)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Yogi Berra

    Babar Azam and Virat Kohli? Ha Ha Ha!Recommend

  • Gautam

    The article is worded to avoid comparison with VK but ironically thats exactly what the intent seems. But yeah, the comparison is funny, indeedRecommend

  • Yogi Berra

    That will put lot of pressure on whoever this Babar guy is. That means he is basically finished. every time he is playing he is conscious that he is being compared with great Virat. He pays the price while arm chair fools making such comparisons go on to find next Virat Kohli in Pakistan.Recommend

  • Hamza Junaid

    @giridesh3:disqus article is aimed at addressing the same absurd comparison. Kohli is far ahead in the game meanwhile Babar is a promising talent. There is no need to call him Kohli yet which the fans are doing.Recommend

  • Sufiyan

    A true gem of a find indeed. He brings the calmness in the batting order that Pakistanis having been longing for. He is unlike any other middle order batsman we have had in the recent past. He belongs here.

    I would say this however – in order for him to reach the statutre of other greats say inzamam for example, he needs to step his game up and perform in test matches. Remember, a great batsman has great talent, temperament and technique. All these are trested in test cricket only and unfortunately he is no babar azam in the test arena – yet!Recommend

  • PatelPara

    quite an overrated player Babar is.

    Even Virat is also overrated. His most runs are in India. Pleaseeeeeeeeee stop comparing playersRecommend

  • Israr Khan

    zahid fazl that’s the name comes to my mind when i first saw babar azam however unlike fazal who failed at top level babar was then taken off the radar and sent with Pakistan A to tour WI in 2016 june, its still early summer and pitches are not batting friendly … that tour educated him and in particular taught him one most important thing … MATCH AWARENESS … this is one quality if u have u will become top player and possibly captain as well if u have man management skills as well … babar azam is excellent timer of cricket ball and understands the game he plays for team and like javaid miandad his brain works like a calculator i hope he improves but keep the same attitude inshaAllahRecommend

  • Israr Khan

    babar azam is a v good player and he bats at no 3 so comparison is a must :) with current top no 3 in the world, to say he can be better than kohli or not i am not sure too early however if we go back in 2012 junaid khan and m irfan got this guy kohli failed totally since then he has improved massively so i say there are similarities among the two both are excellent timer of cricket ball
    ooo by the way yogi this one is for u :)
    https://www.icc-cricket.com/champions-trophy/video/409482Recommend

  • Yogi Berra

    Babbar Azam can be compared to Pak batsmen like Miyandad. But Tendulkar, Kohli etc are in different league. Prove yourself for 10+ years, consistently amass runs, wins and records and then come and make boastful claims. That is all I can say to this babbar fellow.Recommend

  • Yogi Berra

    That is what I say. They are out to destroy his career due to their boastful and delusional claims of his greatness. They have made sure he will fail. Every time he goes out to play he will not see ball coming at him. He will see Kohli staring at him. And he should blame Pak fans for that effect. This is what happens if you turn everything into religion. Sport is not religion.Recommend

  • Hamza Junaid

    @Yogi Berra Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I wrote this piece to address that issue of comparisons that don’t need to take place. Hope you enjoyed reading the blog!Recommend

  • Hamza Junaid

    @Israr Always great to hear from you. I agree with your thoughts, as i said we have discovered a gem indeed. Timing the ball, picking singles and having match awareness is rarely seen in our batsmen. However my only concern is we will put unnecessary pressure on him by comparing him to Kohli. He is babar azam and we should let him develop his own brand, no need for him to be Kohli.Recommend

  • Hamza Junaid

    @PatelPara Thanks for sharing your thought. I would refrain from saying over-rated but I would agree he still has plenty to prove in his career.Recommend

  • Hamza Junaid

    I completely agree with your thoughts. His failure in test matches is a concern indeed. However, I am sure he will learn and come back strong. He has plenty of potential and seems to be a long term asset for Pakistan.Recommend